Brunching at Back Deck

As I walked into the Back Deck Restaurant on West Street in Boston on Sunday, I couldn’t believe that it had been over a year since I last attended a Boston Brunchers‘ event. It was also the first brunch where I got to use my new fancy camera!

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Since the Patriots were playing in the AFC Championship game later that day, I knew I had to work at 3pm, so when Renee sent a contest around to win a seat at this brunch from 12pm-2pm, I knew I couldn’t pass up the chance to enter. When I was selected, I was beyond excited.

When I sat down, I was greeted by a few familiar faces, like Erika, Meghan, Liz and Jess.  I wasted no time choosing a signature drink from their menu: an Orange Cooler, complete with OJ, orange vodka, Cointreau and lime juice. I loved it. If it was acceptable to have one of those every morning, I would. The alcohol was subtle, but present and the juice was fresh. Perfect start to brunch.

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Each bruncher got to choose an item off of the menu to try and we decided to start with some appetizers to share at the table: grilled zucchini with a garlic mayo, eggplant spread on pita, squash soup, chicken livers, hot wings with dipping sauce, and a honey-drizzled grilled grapefruit.  I wasn’t particularly fond of the chicken livers, and the grapefruit was difficult to eat, but everything else was delicious.

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As I perused the menu trying to decide what to order, I felt the brunch menu leaned more towards lunch than breakfast. Maybe I’m just strange, but even during “brunch”, I almost always choose a breakfast item. So that’s what I did, settling on Eggs Diablo. I must’ve been feeling a little adventurous since a) I almost never order egg-y breakfast items and b) this dish came complete with a habenero sauce (which I asked for on the side just in case…)

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I would say that the dish was good, but not mind-blowing. The eggs were perfectly cooked: fluffy, light and just runny enough, but I didn’t taste much spice on the “spicy” pork. The black beans and tortillas tasted as they should. I think I would’ve preferred toast to the tortillas under the beans. I didn’t really eat much of it. The crispy tortilla strips on top, however, were a textural element that I enjoyed. When I took taste of the habenero sauce, I was instantly thankful that I asked for it on the side. While tasty, even the smallest amount warmed my mouth and throat and any more would’ve overpowered the whole dish. When I was able to get everything on my fork all at once, I must say it was quite delicious. Separately, however, the elements on the plate were good, but not great.

The other menu item I was eyeing was the Challah French Toast, which the bruncher sitting next to me happened to order. The moment I took a bite, I knew it would’ve been more my style. It was crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside, and had a bourbon and caramelized banana sauce… Heaven. And, it was huge!

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But we weren’t done yet. Our server came over with a dessert menu and, like our appetizers, we got a few to share. The “Drunken 3 Musketeer” ice cream was by far my favorite.

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Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this brunch and would recommend Back Deck for any Sunday. Heads up – they have a kiddie menu too so don’t be afraid to bring the kiddos along!  If you’re looking for a reasonably priced good time, try it out!

*The Back Deck provided brunch free of charge to the Boston Brunchers and I was asked to write a review of the meal and experience I had. ALL opinions stated here are my own.

Recapping 2012… A Year I Never Expected

I had much of this post written before December 17th. I am going to leave what was written originally as is but add a little something up here first to give a little more context to my 2012…. I feel this post is better late than never.

On December 17th, my grandmother passed away. It was sudden, unexpected, and devastating. Mere days before Christmas, a fatal heart attack that no one saw coming was ultimately to blame. Surprisingly, I managed to keep myself together for most of what followed, only breaking down in the hardest moments, trying with everything I had in me to keep my tears hidden.

My Nuna was the most generous person I’ve ever known. Anything I ever wanted, she was willing to supply. She was the reason our Christmas tree had unnecessary but always welcome mounds of presents under it on Christmas Day, why I always had an “emergency $20” in my wallet (that was almost ALWAYS spent on non-emergent things) and why I had a life-size princess Barbie doll (remember those things?!)

She was also stubborn, but in the kind of way that made you thankful for traditional things, like the exact right way to make a turkey on Thanksgiving and why, to this day, I sit closer to my steering wheel in the car than is really necessary because “it’ll protect me.” No, it will probably make things worse, but things stick when you’re a little kid.

I miss my Nuna more than I can possibly say. I am thankful that I had her for almost all of 2012, but 2013 and on will not be the same without her.

My little sister, Nuna and me... Little kid fro and all.
My little sister, Nuna and me… Little kid fro and all.

Now, onto what I had written before. Happy New Years everyone!

Remember when I wrote the post, “2012 Will be Great?”  Well, it was.

But not before it was absolutely horrible.

2012 became a year that I never expected. Last December, I had my whole life planned out. A special relationship to me ended and I thought things would never be the same.  They aren’t – they’re better. Things change, people change, and everything happens for a reason. I think I’ve finally grasped that concept.

But 2012 had many great things. Many amazing things. Allow me to tell you about them.

– I ran my first 5-miler.

First 5-miler on New Years Day 2012.
First 5-miler on New Years Day 2012.

– I ran my first 10K.

First 10K, March 2012.
First 10K, March 2012.

– I spent my summer at the London Olympics.

London2012... The best summer of my whole life.
London2012… The best summer of my whole life.

– I turned 24 on the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Happy 24th Birthday to me!
Happy 24th Birthday to me!

– I watched two of my childhood friends get married.

Photo courtesy of the Groom's Facebook page.
Photo courtesy of the Groom’s Facebook page.

– I met a guy I would get to know while I was away for 7 weeks… and fall for him… hard.

This is my boyfriend, Sean. I suppose its time for all of you to be introduced.
This is my boyfriend, Sean. I suppose its time for all of you to be introduced.

– I was in 2 DanceWorks Boston shows and choreographed 2 routines for it.

My routine, "Deadly", featuring the 7 Deadly Sins.
My routine, “Deadly”, featuring the 7 Deadly Sins.

– I finished my Master’s Degree. (FINALLY!!!!!! Master Torto has a great ring to it.)

The face of a Master.
The face of a Master. You know you’re impressed.

– I got a part-time, paid internship as a Sports Web Producer at Boston.com.

I changed in a lot of ways.

When I look back on 2012, I realized how much my life has changed and I honestly don’t think I’d change a single second of it. Even though parts of it were incredibly difficult and there were times when I wanted to give everything up and just live in my own misery, I pulled through it. I am happier than I have been in a long time.

Here’s to 2013 and everything it brings. I haven’t really made any New Year’s resolutions but here’s one: blog more. Good plan.

February Restaurant Review: The Landing at 7 Central

Happy Valentine’s Day all!!  Welcome to my February edition of Chocolate & Wine’s Restaurant Review.

This month, I wanted to find something completely different than anywhere Stephen and I have been.  Plus, being Valentine’s Day, we decided to go out on Friday for a nice, quiet evening instead of fighting the crowds today.

I’ve gotten lots of restaurant recommendations (Thanks! Keep ’em coming!) but this is a place I found via Google.  I wanted something in the “hidden gem” category and that’s exactly what I found: The Landing at 7 Central in Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA.

I made a reservation for two at 8pm (ya know.. just in case) and we found it pretty easily.  It was elegantly lit and very inviting.  The hostess sat us right away, directly across from a cozy fireplace.

The Landing in Manchester-by-the-Sea

Our waitress, who’s name escapes me, was friendly and attentive.  She took our drink orders and returned quickly with ice waters, freshly baked rolls that were still hot and the most delicious olive oil I have ever tasted.  A few minutes later, my Argentinian Malbec and Stephen’s Sam Adams-something-or-other-beer was in front of us.  It was efficient service without the feeling of being too rushed.

The menu itself was ridiculous.  There were so many options and everything sounded incredible.  Things like “Chicken Jessica” and “Pan Roasted Salmon” jumped out at me but in the end, I settled on what I really wanted but rarely get: Seafood Risotto.  Stephen got the Prime Rib special.

Seafood Risotto... Yes, please.

My risotto was flawless.  It had muscles, tender scallops, perfectly cooked shrimp, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, all wrapped in a not-overly-cheesy bed of puffed up rice.  I had to stop myself from eating too much of it, knowing that I could devour the whole bowl if given the opportunity.  (Not that it made it until the next day anyway due to a midnight snack craving but that’s besides the point..) Stephen’s prime rib was perfectly medium rare, accompanied by a blue cheese butter (amazing) asparagus and thick, garlicky mashed pototoes – comfort food for a chilly night.

Seafood risotto - sorry the photo is a little blurry, but check out all those beautiful colors!

Tip: Always ask what the special is!

That prime rib was HUGE!

There was only one thing that threw me about The Landing.  The tables were set with white linen tablecloths with a blue overlay, lovely cutlery and a single candle.  And then, resting on the dinner roll plate, under said cutlery was… a paper napkin?  Wait, come again?  A beautiful restaurant with paper napkins?  Again, it’s small.  Tiny even compared to the wonderful time we had but I think a place like that should reconsider the paper and switch to cloth.  Just my two cents.

Overall Rating: 9 out of 10.

Just like January, we had another terrific restaurant experience.  Wonderful, friendly service, gourmet food, good prices and the perfect atmosphere for any romantic date night out.  Be aware that for young adults and students on a budget, it may be a little pricier for you, but still 100% worth it.

But please Landing friends, lose the paper napkins…

I want to know:  Do you have a restaurant you’d like me to review?  Been to The Landing and have a difference experience than I did?  Let me know!

January Restaurant Review: Border Cafe

So at the beginning of the year, I set some goals for myself.  One of which is trying a different restaurant every month and writing a review for it.  Welcome to my newest series here at Chocolate & Wine, my monthly Restaurant Review!

On Saturday night, Stephen and I had every intention on going to a new place on Rt. 1 in Saugus called Jalapeños.  Since I’ve seen the sign for months, I assumed it was up and running.  I was mistaken.  Damn.  I hate being wrong.

Hungry, and still in the mood for Mexican, Stephen quickly suggested a place I had only been to once or twice pre-blog.. aka, a long time ago.  Our new destination? The Border Cafe, located on Rt. 1 North in Saugus, Massachusetts.

The Border Cafe... perhaps you have one near you?

I could tell from the parking lot that we were in for a wait.  When we got inside, the hostess handed us one of those remote control-looking things that buzz and light up when your table is ready.  Stephen suggested a drink and we headed over to the bar.  I noticed a couple about halfway through their drinks with the same buzzy control thing in hand.  I knew that if I hovered long enough, I’d have a prime seat at the bar while we waited for our table.  5 minutes later, the couple’s buzzer went off, they left, and I got a front row seat to salsa heaven for our 50 minute wait.

2 drinks, chips and salsa and our buzzy remote. I like the way this dinner is turning out.

For our wait, I ordered a spicy glass of Cabernet and Stephen got a Tradition Margarita.  Both were delicious but I will almost always choose wine over tequila.

Sooner rather than later, we were seated at our table, ordered ice waters (with lemon) and perused the menu.  After debating between things like tacos, grilled fish and a burrito that was a bit too big for my liking, I noticed the vegetarian options on the last page of the menu.  Now, I’m not vegetarian but I can always go for a dish loaded with veggies.  One thing stood out to me instantly: Vegetarian Jambalaya.

A little rice, a lot of veggies. Nice and spicy, just how I like it!

It was pretty much a no-brainer and for $6.97, this huge plate of food could not have been any better.  Stephen got steak tacos that were also yummy but my heart was set on devouring the veggie dish in front of me.  It has sauteed tomatoes, broccoli, onions, carrots (that I picked out because I don’t like cooked carrots… go figure), summer squash, mushrooms, zucchini, black beans, corn and cilantro with other herbs and spices, drizzled with a spicy ranchero sauce and served over seasoned rice with a slice of cornbread.  I got a side of sour cream just in case the sauce had a little too much heat but I didn’t end up needing much of it and Stephen ate the cornbread.  He’s such a good dinner buddy.

Overall Rating?  9 out of 10.

The service was excellent, the food and drinks were delicious and our final bill was a steal.  For two more drinks (I got the sangria and Stephen, a Corona) and 2 huge plates of food, plus another basket of chips with salsa that we didn’t touch, came to $28.00 even.  Not bad for a Friday night dinner with leftovers for lunch the next day.

We’ll definitely go back, but next month, it’s off to a different place and another review.

I want to know: Have you been to the Border Cafe?  What did you order?  Did you have an enjoyable experience?  What restaurants should I review in upcoming months? (I’ll credit you in my post if I try it out!)